Mark J Reichman from the New Tribes Mission in Kandrian, West New Britain province, writes this dramatic report of an attempted hold-up by armed criminals at remote Kandrian airstrip on Monday this week. Masked bandits dramatically forced the pilot of a New Tribes
ON Monday, at 11am on my way to the Kandrian airport, I stopped and picked up four guys (two of whom wanted to fly to Hoskins, Andrew and Pius).
I then picked female passenger (name withheld) and her brother from the Peter PNG store in Kandrian.
Afterwards, I went to the hospital and picked up a sick man, Lukas, his wife Ana and the HEO Kaspar.
We drove to the airport and waited for the New Tribes Mission plane. While we waited, many of the passengers sought shade in the terminal building. Only myself, the female passenger and her brother were in the truck.
At 11:30am, we heard the drone of the airplane engine. At the same time, my son Jared, who was standing outside the driver’s door said “there’s trouble”.
I turned around and saw masked men with long barrelled guns coming out of the tall grass and walking towards the truck.
I don’t know why, maybe it was because my truck was stolen last July by a drunk or because of being assaulted in September by another drunk or because Johnson Trading in Gasmata was held up by armed robbers or Peter PNG held up in December by armed robbers and the Tiana Spirit being stoned by drunks and having no police in Kandrian to report incidents to, instinctively made me start the truck and take off.
I sped away while six armed, masked men chased me down the airstrip.
As I sped away I said a little prayer of “is there a chance I could end my missionary career today?” but had a peace that wasn’t going to be the case.
I turned to the left to find a side road that would bring me back to the airport apron but the armed men also turned and I saw they would be able to intercept us so I straightened out and continued down the centre of the airstrip.
At this time the female passenger said she had a lot of money with her.
Looking in my mirror, I counted six men chasing us and we were getting away. I also saw the NTM plane making his final turn so I slowed the truck down and flashed my lights repeatedly at the plane as the pilot made his final approach. He saw my signal and aborted his landing.
I proceeded to the end of the airstrip but having nowhere further to drive, I turned the truck around and stopped.
The armed men were continuing to walk down the centre of the airstrip towards us so I asked the female passenger if “she wanted to give up her money?”
Before she could answer, I told my passengers to lay down across the backseat. I waited thinking if I sped past them it would be unlikely they could hit a fast moving vehicle and as they were getting closer, I took off back down the airstrip heading straight towards the assailants.
They were waving their guns defiantly in the air. I last saw my speedometer reading 60kph as I veered right at a group of three armed men who quickly fled. I then saw an armed man on my left with a long barrelled gun so I turned the truck towards him.
As I bore down on him, he ran to the side and I continued my pursuit leaving the karanas and onto the grass. When I got about 50 feet away, I swerved to avoid the armed man at which time he lowered his gun. I swerved to the right and laid down across the seat. I heard the gun fire which sounded more like a .303 than a shotgun.
Believing he only had the one bullet, I quickly sat up as the truck was now speeding across the karanas on the strip. I fish tailed to the right then got the truck under control and saw another man on the left side of the strip waving something in the air so I aimed for him as well.
He was way off to the side of the centre of the strip in the grass so again I left the karanas and aimed for him which sent him fleeing. I did not chase him very long and returned to the centre of the strip. I then made my way back to the apron area looking in my mirror and seeing the armed men were not in pursuit of me any longer, I relaxed.
(I was told later by Jared that he saw them follow a path to the east side of the airstrip towards the
(Although the truck was spewing out black smoke as well, he said this was a “puff” of black smoke he saw after I passed the armed man. He then saw the truck swerving and thought the bullet had hit a tyre but that is not the case. We checked the truck and there were no bullet holes.)
A bunch of people had gathered on the apron as the NTM plane flew overhead. We cleared the apron and the NTM airplane landed. We unloaded the plane at which time three trucks full of men came up to the apron area. Amongst them was the female passenger’s husband and he was carrying a 9mm pistol. Six passengers loaded the plane and four trucks went up and down the airstrip before stopping alongside the airstrip while the plane took off. At 1pm all the trucks came down the hill in close procession.
We did not report the incident to any police in Kandrian because there are no police here to report it to.
The pilot later commented: “Getting closer, I could see that the men chasing the truck were waving their bush knives in a murderous fashion. Wait! Is that a shotgun? He is aiming it at me! I banked the aircraft sharply to the right toward lower terrain. I think I’m still too far away for an effective shot if he pulled the trigger, but I pushed hard for distance and altitude.”
Latest update: On Tuesday, at 7pm, “more than four” armed men broke into the female passenger’s residence and demanded that her husband come out of his room. A man was holding a shotgun and when the husband opened the door, he fired his 9mm.
The man ran and fired his shotgun back hitting the wall leaving a 4-inch hole in the plywood. Another shotgun was fired low and pellets hit another person in the house in the calf, causing minor injuries. The husband fired another shot. The armed men fled leaving a trail of blood on the verandah.
The townspeople mustered around the residence but the gunmen had already fled.